The panel marked another event in the series of Reflection Fora aiming to challenge established narratives of the enlargement process and help create thoughts for the way forward.
Taking place one month after the Trieste Summit, the panels’ rationale was to give a critical and honest assessment of both the Berlin Process as well as the enlargement process in an expert debate consisting of civil society representatives, policy makers, diplomats, and academics.
The debate was opened with the question on how wider European Integration and the more intergovernmental Berlin process are interlinked. Participants agreed that the Berlin Process was a silent recognition on behalf of both member states and the European Union that something needs to change when it comes to relations with the Western Balkans, as the process was not functioning properly.
Current achievements of the Berlin Process were commented as modest, while the process as such was missing an overall strategic plan and objective. However, it was emphasized that the process drew positive attention to how integration could be conducted within a regional framework. Moreover, the Berlin Process has fostered negotiations with all Western Balkan countries, regardless of their status and by this de facto lowered accession conditions. This should be adapted to the EU enlargement process by stopping to think of accession as a goal, but rather as one step in a prolonged process.
The participants especially focused on the current state of affairs in Macedonia and whether the positive news from this country could give some fresh hope for the entire region. On this note, participants agreed that activities of civil society, both organized and individual, were crucial in influencing political parties towards internal reform and changing work practices by creating policies jointly and together.
As in previous editions of the Reflection Fora, a considerable part of the discussion was dedicated to the role of civil society. It was agreed that EU integration should not be something coming from above, from Brussels technocratic assessment, but rather have an empowering effect on civil society and activists in the region and help them put pressure on their own governments whilst working with them in a bottom-up approach.
As a conclusion, participants noted that there is a necessity to open up the various fora and events on European integration to people whose voices remained unheard until now.
The series of Reflection Fora will continue in 2017 and 2018. A video of the Forum can be found here.